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The Move to Online: More of the Same or Re-Creating Engineering Education?

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Faculty and Course Evolution: Teaching With Technology, Online Delivery, and Addressing Emerging Student & Industry Needs

Tagged Division

Continuing Professional Development

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.1224.1 - 23.1224.12



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Paper Authors


Wayne P. Pferdehirt University of Wisconsin-Madison Orcid 16x16

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Wayne P. Pferdehirt is the Director of graduate engineering distance degree programs for the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Engineering. Wayne has also directed the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s technical leadership degree, the Master of Engineering in Professional Practice (MEPP) program, since the program’s launch in 1998. MEPP was UW-Madison’s first completely online degree program and has won several national and international awards for proven quality of instruction and student support.

Prior to joining UW-Madison, Wayne directed the Midwest solid waste consulting services of Camp Dresser McKee and led energy conservation research projects for Argonne National Laboratory. He has a BS in engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University, an MS in civil engineering with an emphasis in regional planning from Northwestern University, and is a licensed professional engineer.

For more information about UW-Madison’s online graduate engineering degree programs see

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The Move to Online:  More of the Same or Re‐Creating Engineering Education? The rush to take more courses and more degree programs online continues to rise exponentially.  Too often this decision is made in a “Ready, fire, aim!” mode.  Institutions decide to “go online” to increase enrollments and revenues but do so too often without seriously considering how course and degree offerings, and the design of these, align with the institutional mission and strategic goals. When online learning is simply construed as digitally capturing what already happens in a traditional on‐campus classroom and streaming that to remote students, institutions fail to capture the exceptional opportunities that online learning provides for creating fundamentally better ways to teach and learn.  Those opportunities can reach new, strategically targeted students, can increase teaching skills of all involved faculty, and can synergistically improve teaching on campus. This paper will explore key strategic opportunities that online learning presents for improving the quality, reach and impact of engineering education, when focus, effort and resources are explicitly committed to doing so, rather than simply getting off‐campus students to enroll in existing traditional on‐campus offerings.  The paper will primarily draw upon the experiences of the University of Wisconsin‐Madison’s College of Engineering in developing new distance graduate engineering degree programs.  The College has committed to building best‐in‐class degree programs that build from centers of strength within the College and which strategically deliver value to the College.  This strategic value is derived by creating new, stimulating opportunities for faculty to teach highly experienced engineers, learn with them through challenging authentic project‐based learning, and create spillover benefits for faculty on‐campus teaching and research.  Rightly viewed and applied, online learning creates genuinely new, creative opportunities for teaching and learning, rather than a burden of teaching more of the same. The focus on quality with which UW‐Madison College of Engineering has pursued the creation, delivery and support of online learning has been recognized by major national awards for quality from the Sloan Consortium, The University Continuing Education Association, and the American Distance Learning Association.  In January 2012, U.S. News & World Report’s first‐ever ranking of online degree programs rated U‐Madison’s online engineering degree programs first in two key categories of proven quality: teaching practices and student engagement; and student services and technology. 

Pferdehirt, W. P. (2013, June), The Move to Online: More of the Same or Re-Creating Engineering Education? Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--22609

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